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In Search of Lost Time: Chronology and Narration in The Good Soldier Patrick A. McCarthy University of Miami FORD MADOX FORD'S The Good Soldier ends with an afterthought , as John Dowell, realizing with some surprise that he has "forgotten to say how Edward met his death," tells us how Nancy Rufford's cheery telegram led to Edward Ashburnham's suicide.1 Although Dowell will conclude his narration with a belated description of Edward's response to the telegram, his own attempt to understand the novel's events comes to an end earlier in the final chapter when, despairing of ever knowing the truth of Nancy's feelings toward Edward, Dowell writes, "I don't know. I know nothing. I am very tired."2 The two conclusions are linked by a verbal echo, for in this passage, written more than two years after Edward's death, Dowell at once recalls and anticipates Edward's last words: "So long, old man, I must have a bit of a rest, you know."3 Dowell and Edward are both very tired, in need of a rest, but Edward's reflexive use of the formulaic British phrase "you know" contrasts ironically with Dowell's agonized admission that he doesn't know, an admission so important that it bears repeating almost immediately , in the next paragraph: "I don't know. I leave it to you."4 As he says elsewhere, both early in the novel and much later, Dowell's world "is all a darkness."5 The Good Soldier thus ends twice, both times without resolution, as Dowell first admits that he cannot understand what has happened and then describes himself as unwilling or unable to stop Edward from killing himself.6 This double conclusion, in which nothing is resolved, clarified, or placed in perspective apart from the narrator's inability to 133 ELT 40:2 1997 comprehend his life, gives us a situation directly opposed to the one at the end of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, where a chance triggering of Marcel's buried memories spontaneously revives the past, enabling him to see his whole life clearly and coherently and to begin writing the seven-volume novel that we have almost finished reading. Indeed, if The Good Soldier were not the earlier work, someone by now would have read it as a travesty of Proust's work in which the meaning of the remembered life never comes clear. Ford's readers look in vain for a moment of Proustian vision in which all falls into place, finding instead only what Alan Wilde calls Dowell's "flat, discrete, and fragmentary perceptions [that] stubbornly refuse to cohere"—in short, "his habitual sense of disconnection."7 A second, equally striking, distinction between Ford's novel and Proust's is that whereas Marcel finally begins writing Remembrance of Things Past at the end of The Past Recaptured, we are aware of Dowell as the writer/storyteller of The Good Soldier almost from the outset. In the first chapter, after tracing his dead wife's ancestors to "Fordingbridge, where the Ashburnhams' place is," Dowell adds, "From there, at this moment, I am actually writing."8 Soon, however, he adopts the pose of someone telling the story to "a sympathetic soul" in a cottage near the sea.9 By setting Dowell before our eyes as a self-conscious narrator, Ford maintains a constant focus on Dowell's painful attempts to reconstruct a world that has fallen to pieces.10 Although the novel will emphasize his role as the writer or teller of the story, the opening line oÃ- The Good Soldier, "This is the saddest story I have ever heard," places Dowell in a different role, as someone who has heard the story that he will in turn retell for us. Taken literally, this statement would mean that one or more persons have told Dowell the story he is about to recount; but in fact, although it is based on what Leonora and others have told him, Dowell also creates parts of the story to fill in gaps or establish coherence. In a very real sense, as Paul Armstrong observes, "Dowell 'hears' his story for the first time...


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pp. 133-149
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Will Be Archived 2021
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